Lipstick on your collar?
Connie Francis returns to where the boys are
by Robert Sokol
Connie Francis likes to do it best in bed. Vocalize, that is. "It's the most comfortable place to be!" she laughs. Francis will appear in concert at the Castro Theatre this weekend, accompanied by a 21-piece orchestra. She calls San Francisco one of her "favorite cities in the world," and has some great memories of Baghdad by the Bay among her souvenirs. "We did an AIDS benefit at the Eagle several years ago. Do you know it?" she asks genuinely. "Everyone was there on their motorcycles, and I autographed a lot of behinds that day! We raised a lot of money. It was a great afternoon."
Not exactly the sort of memory you'd expect from a nice Catholic girl of traditional Italian-American heritage — she has 15 aunts and uncles and 100 cousins on her mother's side. "My mother and father were very liberal. Not when it came to dating boys. Especially not my father. He was very strict. But they were very close to a lot of my gay fans. I am a Catholic, but there are a lot of things I disagree with the Catholic Church on. Homosexuality, for one. [And that] they don't believe in condoms, even in a place like Africa, where over 25 million people have AIDS. I just don't get it."
The seeds for her six-decades-and-counting career were sown early on when Papa Franconero offered three-year-old Concetta Rosa Maria a choice of accordion or piano lessons. "I didn't know which was which, so like a dope, I said accordion." A year later, Francis made her performing debut singing and playing the squeeze-box. "People called him a 'stage father,' and said he pushed me. And he did push me, but only because I wanted it. Music has always been my life, but there would have been no career without my dad. He also kept my head on straight. He'd say, 'Listen sister, maybe they kiss your behind in New York, but around here, you're nothing.' That was how they kept me grounded."
Who's sorry now?
In the late 1950s, Francis scored some minor film credits providing the singing voice for stars like Jayne Mansfield and Tuesday Weld. Where the Boys Are, co-starring George Hamilton, Yvette Mimieux, Jim Hutton, Paula Prentiss and Frank Gorshin, brought her to the world stage in 1960. Then, after three more XY-meets-XX flicks in rapid succession, she quit the film biz.
"I hated it. I had an incredible contract with MGM. I could choose my scripts, co-stars, directors, whatever I wanted. But it was a drag for me. I found it very boring. I was an energetic type. I wanted to sing, I wanted to travel and perform for foreign audiences. I just didn't care [about movies]. I would read my script on the first day of shooting. I look back and think what a fool I was. It was a golden opportunity that I missed out on." Francis will return to filmmaking this year, though behind the scenes. A long-gestating biopic starring Gloria Estefan goes into pre-production in a few months.
In overall good health, Francis is candid about her bipolar disorder, a condition that affects an estimated 1.2% of the world population. "Lithium is a wonder drug. It doesn't seem to affect [others] as far as their energy and creativity is concerned, but it does affect me. So if I have a performance scheduled, I do not take the medication for a few days before. Then I go right back on it, because without it I could spend the rest of my life in a mental institution. It's hard, but I have no choice. I really wouldn't be able to perform if I stayed on the drug all the time."
Despite such an obstacle, Francis maintains an active global touring schedule. Among her myriad albums and charting singles, she has recorded her hits in over a dozen languages, some she speaks and others learned phonetically. "My father encouraged me to sing in the language of the people for whom I'd be performing. He said, 'How can people relate to a love song if they don't understand the words?'" When she's not touring, leisure time is spent in her Miami Beach home, not far from the Fort Lauderdale scene that started it all. "I may not make them anymore, but I still enjoy going to the movies," she laughs, "and I have a black belt in shopping!"
Rrazz Productions presents Connie Francis: The Legend Continues at the Castro Theatre on Sat., March 3 at 8 p.m. Tickets ($45-$75): www.ticketweb.com or (866) 468-3399.